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THE BEAST, THE WARRIOR AND THE WITCH
Even before the time of Konrad the Falconer the southern foothills of the White Mountains have been as a dangerous place. Bandits roam the countryside, war bands of Orcs and Beastmen raid the few scattered settlements, while the vampiric inhabitants of Wolfenschloss claim dominion over the land.
In the north of Arcalea, on the bleak foothills of the White Mountains, lies Sudenmark, one of the most desolate and remote regions claimed by the Empire. It is a land of windswept hills, mist shrouded valleys, boggy ravines and gloomy coniferous forests plagued by countless evils. No sane man travels this land unless he is pressed by haste or accompanied by numerous guards. The few people that inhabit this unpleasant land eke their existence by herding small flocks of sheep and goat, for farming has been made nigh impossible by annual raiding and harsh elements.
Yet it has not always been so. Once this land was an upstart Imperial province and was famed for its fine wines, but all that was destroyed more than three centuries ago when the barbaric hordes of Orcs under command of Negrud Lungcrusher killed the marshal of Sudenmark and sundered the entire province. Less than one in ten inhabitants survived and those that did would forever curse the gods for their ill fortunes. With the collapse of Sudenmark the land was inherited by the Church of Sunna and though there were several attempts to rebuild and reintegrate the region they all failed.
In a secluded valley nestled among the unforgiving peaks of the White Mountains lies Wolfenhof. Situated below the spring of river Frigido land is just fertile enough to provide sufficient crops for the inhabitants and ensure an easier life than elsewhere in Sudenmark. Unfortunately the people of Wolfenhof are not of that luck for castle Wolfenschloss that rises on a crag overlooking the town is inhabited by undead monsters. To them the townsfolk are little more than livestock to be used and abused at their leisure, unable to flee from their nocturnal masters.
Much of the castle is in a state of disrepair, long abandoned by the living. Decades ago the von Frohlich counts fled from the gathering darkness that surrounded the place. The rock beneath the citadel is honeycombed with caves and passages hollowed out by water in ages past and there far from light of the sun, the stars and the moon is a chamber that houses a creature of evil. An abomination had made his lair there millennia ago cursing the land with his very presence. His name is Drago and recently he had woken from his long slumber ready to exact vengeance on all who had slighted him.
Ancient beyond mortal reckoning Drago is a scion of Arkyz. Master of marches to the lady of battles, Alde, he was among the nobles of the kingdom of Dinaduri. Yet when the Ogres slew his master and sundered his homeland he was driven into the wilds. Everyone hunted him, even the vampires of other bloodlines, seeking to punish him for the hubris of his fallen sire. Forced to feed on wild animals and ghouls, which were drawn to him like moths to a flame, as well as being exposed to the harsh elements slowly changed his flesh. His form came to match his feral, beast like existence further distorted by the immense hatred that burned within him.
For centuries he eluded all forms of civilisation wandering the wilderness until he came upon a lonely crag rising above a deep chasm. There he crawled into a cave seeking shelter from the coming dawn and stumbled upon a wyvern’s nest. Vicious was the struggle yet in the end the wyrm proved no match for Drago. Drinking deep he slaked his unnatural thirst and overwhelmed by the potency of the monster’s blood feel into a drunken stupor. Relinquishing control over his senses he allowed himself to be overcome by the slumber of ages nestled within the carcass like some grotesque babe in a cradle.
Dust and soil slowly accumulated enclosing him in an earthen cocoon. In the outside world the fortunes of men were on the rise and people looking for fresh pastures settled in the valley below the crag. Mighty lords among men built a fortress above Drago’s resting place and a town grew around it. Noble families rose and fell and Drago slept on, undisturbed by the life that surrounded him. As far as people of Wolfenhof were concerned they lived in a piece of paradise blessed by the gods. Occasional Orcish or Beastmen raid came with the territory of living on the mountain frontier of the Empire but as far as townsfolk were concerned they lived in the safest corner of the world oblivious to what lied beneath their feet.
So it came to pass that on Walpurgis Night of 892 the Moon shined particularly balefully in the sky. Across the region the dead stirred in their graves and some attacked the living, a single night of terror that would go down in Sudenmark’s history as the night of the restless dead. The magic seeping through the Veil penetrated deep into the earth and Drago began to stir in his aeon long sleep. As his consciousness slowly began to surface creatures of darkness were drawn to him. Spectres and ghosts began to haunt Wolfenschloss and men were driven insane by nightmares of death and slaughter. For a generation people tried to endure but eventually gave up and abandoned the cursed castle.
For years the process of waking continued and ever more creatures of the night gathered in the tunnels of the crag. The nearby rent in the Veil in the winter of 924 flooded the area and finally Drago returned to plague the mortal realm. Disoriented at first he fed greedily on ghouls and troglodytes that made their home in the tunnels. Such state of affairs continued for months as he slowly regained his faculties and memories thought long lost were restored. From summoned spirits and his ghoulish servants he learned that more than two millennia had passed in his absence, much had changed yet everything had remained the same. Orcs still raided from the mountains, Beastmen lurked in the forests, followers of the Dark Gods descended upon civilisation to pillage and his accursed kin still preyed upon the living.
Though a noble and a vampire back in Arkyz Drago was outside political structures and games of intrigue that many of his kin liked so much. He was a brute and a simpleton worthy only because of his immense strength, which was rumoured it surpassed that of his sire. He cared nothing for the etiquette of the court or finesse of diplomacy and spent his time prowling the borders for any sign of an enemy to slaughter and feast upon. When the kingdom of Dinaduri fell Drago refused the company of other surviving vampires blaming their scheming ways for the misfortune that befell them.
Time and experience did change Drago and a type of primordial cunning entered his thick skull. He understood that he couldn’t just march into the night conquering all before him at the head of a ghoulish swarm, he would need a proper army and a general. Unlike most vampires Drago lacked arrogance that went with immortality and understood his own deficiencies. Though confidant he could best anyone or anything in single combat he knew he had neither the interest nor the intellectual capacity to master the complexities of fighting a serious battle or conducting a war. So he went on a search.
Finding a person that he believed was skilled enough to be his general and wasn’t bent on killing him at the same time proved more difficult than he imagined. Eventually after many years of crisscrossing the Vetia Drago came upon castle Chinon in central Equitaine. Drawn by the martial skill of its inhabitants he took his time to observe the residents and gouge the likelihood of the lord of the castle joining his cause. In the end it would not be the lord but a resident of a dislocated cottage that would become Drago’s champion.
Guy de Chinon was the eldest son of the Baron that had the misfortune of possessing a rare ability, he could channel magical energies in a way that instinctively allowed him to control and talk to wild animals. For years he hid his gift for in the Equitan society male spellcasters were mistrusted and considered abominable. Then just a few days shy of his first battle where he was to earn his spurs tragedy struck. As was customary a hunt was called during the preparation for the campaign but the quarry, a massive boar, proved more dangerous than was expected and Guy was forced to reveal himself in order to save his father’s life.
Instead of gratitude he received scorn and condemnation. Trying to erase the stain on their honour but unwilling to spill his blood his family imprisoned him in a hunting lodge. As far as the rest of Equitaine was concerned the boy died when he ran naked into the woods one night driven mad by the full moon or at least so the story went. For a decade Guy languished in his woodland confinement hoping against hope that his father would relent and release him. He even promised to leave Equitaine and never use his family name again, but the baron’s heart was unmoved by his pleas.
So when Drago came to his barred window he found eager ears. Promising power, wealth, immortality but most of all freedom the Strigoi brought Guy into the fold. The following morning the guards found Guy dead and buried him in an unmarked grave at the edge of the forest. Three nights later he clawed his way out only to find the crouching figure of Drago waiting for him. Years of imprisonment, combined with an unnatural thirst and flared by indignation turned Guy into a monster. The pair descended upon Chinon and feasted until the early morning hours when they left bound eastward and into legend.
Along the way to Wolfenschloss Guy was quick to come to terms with his new state of existence and what it offered. His sire might be a crude creature that simply wanted vengeance for past transgressions and a flock of mortals to feed on but Guy already had a vision of something much grander, an eternal kingdom protected by immortal knights, stretching from the Great Ocean to the Wasteland. While Drago slinked back into the caves beneath Wolfenschloss Guy went to perform the opening act of his plan to establish a realm of his own.
Relinquishing armour that could no longer contain his bulging form and brandishing a wicked looking axe Guy marched into Wolfenhof and proclaimed that the town was now his property. The burgomeister and the captain of the local militia tried to object but their protests were cut short as Guy planted the axe in their heads. Others drew back in fear and accepted the newcomer as their new lord. Over the coming weeks the lower parts of Wolfenschloss were refurbished and made habitable once more. Some of the townsfolk even found employment in the castle. People disappeared during certain nights and were never seen again and a palpable fear crept into the town. By the time Guy revealed his true nature it was too late, packs of ghouls had blocked all paths leading in and out of Wolfenhof making flight impossible. Some of the townsfolk took their own lives trying to escape the horror but most surrendered to their fate.
Over the years the people of Wolfenhof learned to live with their vampiric masters many even coming to worship them. For all his bestiality Drago in some perverted way cared for the people he preyed upon and restrained himself from feeding upon them as long as there was a steady supply of Orcs and Beastmen in the surrounding mountains. On the other hand Guy true to his origins considered those not of noble birth lower than dirt viewing the townsfolk as milking cows. He fed where he chose and on whom he chose, though raven haired peasant girls were his favourite dish. Only Drago’s presence curtailed the worst of his tendencies. For that reason the people came to like Drago in a way even though they were terrified by him.
Wolfenhof was but a first settlement that fell under the control of the bloodsucking duo and within a few years every town and village within five leagues acknowledged their rule. Guy marshalled the ghouls into a fighting force that easily overcame local militias and Drago slew any monster too powerful for his minions to overcome. Those that bent the knee to Drago the Destroyer and Guy the Butcher had to pay a tribute in blood and lives but were kept safe from the dangers of the outside world in much the same way they protected their flocks of sheep in their pens.
With success came obstacles that were remarkably similar to those Drago had experienced once before. Every time they defeated a band of Orcs or a herd of Beastmen it only served to entice others of their kind to seek them out and challenge them. Soon the pressure on the borders was such they could no longer expand their dominion as near endless skirmishes sapped the strength of the ghoul swarms and the human militias. Drago needed a better army and stronger soldiers. While he travelled in search of a general he met others of his kind, some he slew and some escaped his claws but he learned that the most debased of his kin had degenerated into hulking brutes which could easily match a mountain troll or break a shield wall with contemptuous ease.
Loath to allow his troglodyte minions the drink from his veins Drago hatched a plan. Why use his own blood when another vampire’s could serve just as well. Sacrificing Guy was out of the question so an alternative had to be found. Employing his ghouls Drago lured a pair of Varkolaks into a trap and then set those the troglodytes upon them. More than he would have liked were ripped apart by cornered bestial vampires but in the end they were victorious and two dozen survivors feasted on the remains unknowingly becoming vampires just like their master. For a reason that he did not know and truth be told he did not care to understand these vampire spawns were not like the ones he had seen on his travels. His new minions were even more monstrous.
Bolstered with fresh troops Guy organised a campaign that should have secured all of Sudenmark as their dominion but that was not to be the case. Drawn by the stories of the walking dead another vampire came out of hiding in search of fresh specimens for his obscene experiments. His name lost in mists of time he was one of the Nosferatu, a decrepit student of undeath. Commanding a vast army of zombies and skeletons he scattered the mortal militias and cornered Drago and Guy in a gorge. Though their ghoulish cohorts were heavily outnumbered they had no choice but to fight, and what a fight it was. Nothing in the Nosferatu’s horde could match the two vampires as they dismembered zombies and crushed skeletons but their force was being quickly withered away under an unending assault of rotting flesh and deadly spells. By nightfall the pair was alone, their minions long dead or having fled the battlefield.
For all his arcane might Nosferatu could not overcome Drago’s strength and yard by yard the scion of Dinaduri made his way towards the dark sorcerer. For two hours a wall of flesh and bones was thrown before the Destroyer until the proximity of the fight broke Nosferatu’s concentration and in a vain attempt to stop Drago he drew too much magic onto himself. In a spectacular flash the wizard vampire was struck down as his own spell backfired dragging him screaming into the realm of gods. With their overlord gone the undead collapsed in heaps of bones and decaying flesh and Drago had learned another lesson. To have a proper army he would need to raise the dead.
Their ghoul swarms nearly annihilated Drago and Guy retreated back to Wolfenhof and relinquished control over most of their hard won domain. In the solitude of Wolfenschloss they pondered what to do. Though both were creatures of magic neither had any mastery of necromancy. Drago’s ignorant ways while in Arkyz came to haunt him now. He knew instinctively how to draw magic onto him to heal his injuries but he had no knowledge how to raise the dead. Even if he wanted to, Guy could not teach Drago much about magic beyond what he had read in his father’s library, since his own command over magic was just as instinctive.
So as they brooded and vented their frustration by draining the unfortunate servants of the castle a solution presented itself. The pair was discussing the possibility of sending what remained of their ghouls into the world to seek out necromancers willing to enter their service when there came a rapping on their chamber door. Flanked by a pair of wraiths and thing of beauty entered the room as the two vampires stood dumb folded by the scene. Her gown was as black as night matched by her obsidian dark eyes, contrasted by her porcelain complexion. She was Clarice von Krolok and had an offer for the vampiric masters of Wolfenschloss.
For all her striking appearance and dread bodyguards Clarice was a damsel in distress. Born into the rich von Krolok family she was as far as she could remember obsessed with her looks and went to great lengths to be at all times at her best. During her teen years the notion that she would have to grow old tormented her to such extent that she turned to forbidden books in search of eternal youth. Quick of wit and an easy learner by the time she was twenty she had become an avid necromanceress and an insatiable seductress. With her conquests she fed her ego believing her charms to be irresistible, but it wasn’t enough. To keep her youthful appearance as she was approaching thirty she had resorted to bloody rituals and missing peasants and courtiers drew the attention of witch hunters forcing her to flee her home even as her undead servants fought to protect her from the warriors of the church of Sunna.
Cast out of society for what she had become she went on a search for what she believed was the true source of immortality, the blood of a vampire. Gladdened in a way he had not been since time immemorial Drago accepted Clarice into his entourage. The two struck a deal, she would teach him the art of necromancy and raise an undead army for him and in return when she completes her task he would grant her the Awakening ensuring her beauty would endure down the centuries. Since then the trio have been raiding the barrow tombs that dot the foothills of the White Mountains amassing an army worthy of the kings of old.
As the full Moon rises on the horizon they are now ready to march forth from Wolfenschloss to claim what each of them seeks. Revenge, power, immortality!
The Age of Iron: Drago is sired by lady Alde in the ancient human kingdom of Dinaduri centred on the town of Arkyz. The kingdom is eventually destroyed by Ogres. Drago flees the ruins of his homeland, encounters a Wyvern and falls asleep.
924: Drago awakens
946: Guy de Chinon is sired
959: Lady Clarice von Krolok arrives at Wolfenhof
962: The Host of Drago the Destroyer marches forth to war
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